Murphy is confidently stepping out onto the big stage

Luke Murphy
Luke Murphy
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AS Luke Murphy is likely to discover today in front of what will be Leeds United’s biggest opening day crowd since dropping out of the Premier League, the leap from homely Gresty Road to the cauldron that is a packed Elland Road can be a big one.

Any fears, however, that United’s first £1m signing in seven years will be unable to bridge that gap and star on the big stage can surely be dispelled by taking a brief glance at his career.

This is a midfielder who has not only won on two previous visits to Wembley but also scored a goal at the national stadium that was voted the best in last season’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

Murphy has also already proved here in Yorkshire that he is the man for the big occasion with a starring role for Crewe Alexandra last term against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane in front of a crowd almost four times what he was used to when playing at home.

All in all, therefore, the 24-year-old seems the sort to thrive and not freeze today when around 33,000 fans are expected to flock through the Elland Road turnstiles for the visit of Brighton & Hove Albion.

“I can’t wait for the match to come round,” said Murphy when in conversation with the Yorkshire Post at United’s Thorp Arch training complex.

“Things like that are why I signed for Leeds when I had options to go elsewhere. I wanted to be playing in front of crowds like that.

“Who wouldn’t want to play in front of support like that? All the lads have been talking this week about what the crowd is going to be.

“This is a massive club. To get 32-33,000 for a Championship game is amazing and more than what a lot of Premier League clubs get.”

Murphy’s move to Leeds brought to an end a 17-year association with Crewe, a club rightly regarded as one of the finest developers of young talent in English football.

In total, he made 181 appearances for the Railwaymen. Forty-eight of those came last season, when a host of Premier League and Championship scouts became regulars at Gresty Road as they kept tabs on the attacking midfielder.

By the Spring, Crewe had resigned themselves to losing Murphy amid interest from Aston Villa, where his best friend Ashley Westwood had been impressing since his own big-money move in the summer of 2012.

Leeds manager Brian McDermott made his interest known to the midfielder’s agent as the close season got under way but it was not until June 30 that things began moving.

By then, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers had both had £1m bids accepted and Murphy was on the verge of opting for Ewood Park.

Within a few hours, however, he was sitting down with McDermott.

“It was a bit of a whirlwind,” says Murphy, who will today try to match his previous feat of scoring on his full debut for Crewe Alexandra in a 4-1 win over Hartlepool United in 2008.

“Everything happened on the Sunday and it ended up being a bit of a whirlwind. I met the manager here and we had a coffee together. We hit it off straight away.

“He explained what plans he has for Leeds and where I would fit in.

“I liked what he was saying and I definitely have no regrets about the decision to join Leeds.

“I went with my instinct. But I also spoke to a few people close to me and got their opinions. When I put them all together, everything pointed towards Leeds United.”

By opting for Yorkshire over Blackburn, Murphy unknowingly became something of a landmark signing for the Elland Road outfit.

Not since Richard Cresswell’s £1.1m move from Preston North End in the summer of 2006 had United paid a seven-figure fee for a transfer. Supporters were delighted, as later was Murphy.

“I honestly didn’t know anything about being the club’s first £1m signing in quite a few years,” he says.

“But I do feel proud of it. If someone is willing to pay money, then they really want you in their team. That is a real confidence boost.”

Also ensuring that Murphy will go into the new campaign on something of a high is the success he has enjoyed over the past two years.

In 2011-12, his partnership with Westwood played a major part in the storming run-in that peaked with Crewe claiming seventh place in League Two and then going on to triumph at Wembley in the play-off final against Cheltenham Town.

Westwood left in the wake of that 2-0 win to join Aston Villa for £2m, meaning the captain’s armband was suddenly up for grabs. Manager Steve Davis chose Murphy as his replacement and he took to the role admirably.

Not only did Crewe consolidate their League One status but they also battled through to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final, seeing off Bradford City along the way in the Northern Area semi-final.

Once at Wembley, Crewe made light work of Southend United with Murphy opening the scoring with a pinpoint 20-yard shot that capped a wonderfully worked corner that saw the Shrimpers defence left flummoxed by a deft dummy.

Lifting the trophy at the end of Alexandra’s 2-0 win proved to be one of his last acts in a red shirt and one he is rightly proud of.

“To go to Wembley twice and win both times was fantastic,” he says. “I had a great time at Crewe and left with some great memories. As a club, Crewe are probably just about where they should be in terms of resources but that didn’t mean we were ever overawed.

“We showed that so many times. Not just at Wembley but at places like Bramall Lane. We went there (in November last year) and were quickly 2-0 down. But we then showed some great spirit to come back before half-time and go in level.

“Early in the second half, we then took the lead and could have won the game only for Sheffield United to equalise and it finish 3-3.

“It was a cracking game and probably the turning point for our season. We showed against what was the biggest team in League One that season what we were about.

“I really enjoyed the atmosphere. Bramall Lane is a big stadium and the fans are very loud and passionate. I really enjoyed it and I am hoping it will be more of the same at Leeds.”